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After three decades, Joe Robach leaves public service

Ryan Williamson
CITY Newspaper

Joe Robach doesn’t want to retire. Still, he will in a matter of days.

“I’m getting rid of so much stuff,” said Robach. “It’s amazing what you accumulate over so many years.”

Robach was first elected in 1991, replacing his father, the longtime Democratic state Assemblyman Roger Robach, who died that year. 

Joe Robach is something of a rare breed in an increasingly partisan world. He had support of the Conservative Party both as a Democrat in the state Assembly and as a Republican in the state Senate, where he’s served since 2003. He rose through the ranks and is assistant minority whip. 

“I don’t think I’m so much of a centrist, as it is a style," Robach said. "My family came from the community, we didn’t really come from a political party.

“I try to learn all the issues,” he continued. “Not just the ones that are important to me coming in. I also thought it was very important to listen to everybody, regardless of their demographic, and explain what I could do, what I agreed with, and what perhaps I may not be in total agreement with, and I did that my entire career.”

He said he's learned a lot while representing the diverse 56th State Senate District. The district starts on the shores of Lake Ontario, including Hamlin, Hilton and Greece, and stretches into Brighton and parts of the city of Rochester.

“I didn’t know much about agriculture or anything like that until I got this job. But because of my people out west, I did,” said Robach. 

He’s proud of his achievements, like pushing for Megan’s Law, which created a registry of sex offenders in New York state. He also was an advocate for lower middle-class taxes and school tax rebates.

Robach's fingerprints are all over the area. He pushed for state funding for many Rochester institutions, such as the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher College and the Center for Remanufacturing at Rochester Institute of Technology. He also supported reinvestments at Eastman Business Park and funding for new apartments in the El Camino neighborhood and the newly built La Marketa plaza on North Clinton Avenue, just to name a few.

“A lot of things that I know are going to help people long after I leave, and help the economy here,” said Robach.

At 62, the passion and the fire is still there for Robach. He thinks he could do more. Robach said he wishes he could have made it easier for residents to put initiatives and referendums directly on the ballot. He also wanted to trim or eliminate some fees to encourage New Yorkers to buy homes. 

But with Republicans out of power in the state Senate, he said there’s no room for him to maneuver and get things done. He also called election reforms that moved primaries from September to June and forced anyone running to seek signatures in their district in February and March “ridiculous.”

Robach's decision to retire set up a race between Republican Mike Barry, who he supported, and Democrat Jeremy Cooney, who ultimately won.

Robach said he hasn’t changed -- but politics in the state have.

Emblematic of the policy perspectives that he abhors is Amazon abandoning its plans to build a 25,000-worker headquarters in New York City because lawmakers balked at billions of dollars in tax breaks. 

“A party who is against job creation and growth is not my party,” said Robach. “And clearly the Dems have staked out that by their actions, not my words. That was the acorn that would have been an oak tree.”

Robach also said there’s not enough of an upstate agenda coming out of Albany, and he's concerned it’s hurting the area’s economy. 

“I’ve done everything I can,” said Robach, “to not make everything far left, New York City-centric. Unfortunately, in today’s big government, I think that’s the case. Especially for people who live in Rochester.

“New York better learn, instead of driving people away, we better be encouraging people to stay,” said Robach. “Forget about Democrat or Republican for a second. What I try to teach all my colleagues, regardless of parties, is people up here are voting with their feet, they’re moving out. So I don’t care whether you’re trying to sell your home, or make bread, whether you work at a bank, there are less people to service and contribute.”

Robach said the flight from the area is so bad that when he announced his retirement, people routinely asked him if he was relocating.

“They just assumed that people who are successful, or can, want to leave New York. That’s awful,” said Robach. ‘I’m not going anywhere.”

Robach said he intends to support organizations and causes that he believes in.

“You know, this is where I know and love,” said Robach. “My family has been here since we’ve been in the country. I’m not going anywhere. So I still have a passion for the community. Where exactly that will take me, I don’t know.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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